TALLAHASupreme Court SSEE — The Florida on Monday refused to take up a property insurer’s appeal in a dispute about whether blood should be considered a pollutant under a homeowners’ policy.
Justices declined to hear an appeal by Florida Farm Bureau General Insurance Co. in the dispute about whether the policy excluded coverage for cleaning up blood after a burglary. As is common, the Supreme Court did not detail its reasons, but the decision effectively let stand a ruling by the 5th District Court of Appeal in favor of homeowners John and Joyce Worrell.
The Marion County case stemmed from an incident in which Laurance Anton — described by the appeals court as “intoxicated and apparently injured” — broke into a shed on the Worrells’ property and left behind blood and what appeared to be feces. Anton was later found dead outside a nearby home, with the accidental death attributed to blunt-force trauma to the head from a fall, according to court documents.
The Worrells hired Accident Cleaners and Restoration to clean the shed, with the firm then filing an insurance claim with Florida Farm Bureau, according to the appeals court. The insurer denied the claim, saying it fell under a pollution exclusion in the Worrells’ policy.
The Worrells filed a lawsuit, and a Marion County judge awarded $4,103 plus interest and attorney fees and costs. A three-judge panel of the appeals court on April 28 upheld that decision, parsing the wording of the policy and whether blood could be considered a pollutant.
“A fair reading of the exclusion provision leads us to conclude that the blood left at the Worrells’ residence by Anton’s unlawful entrance onto their property is not a ‘pollutant’ as defined by the policy’s exclusion provision — that is, blood is not ‘any solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals and waste,’” the opinion, written by Judge Adrian Soud and joined fully by Judge Harvey Jay, said. “Indeed, blood is materially different from any of the substances listed to illustrate that which constitutes a ‘pollutant.’ Further, blood does not meet the definition of ‘waste,’ as blood plainly is not a material to be ‘recycled, reconditioned or reclaimed.’”
Judge Brian Lambert agreed with the result but did not sign onto the main opinion.
Florida Farm Bureau went to the Supreme Court, arguing in part that the “substances listed in the exclusion were not intended to constitute an exhaustive list.” The insurer contended that the appeals-court ruling conflicted with a Supreme Court precedent and did not consider “whether blood could be deemed an ‘irritant,’ ‘contaminant’ or ‘waste’ as those terms are used in the exclusion.”
But the Worrells’ attorney, in a June brief, disputed that the appeals court failed to follow precedent and said the policy’s pollution exclusion was “unambiguous.”